Caprica

Fridays at 9 p.m. on Syfy. Five episodes into the first season´╗┐.

Only novels rival TV shows in terms of the depth and breadth of the worlds they can create. That’s what makes the classic luddite sneer “I don’t even own a TV” so profoundly stupid: It betrays the fact that the sneering luddites are just as blind to the medium’s potential as the TV hacks at which they direct their derision. Because sure, most TV is disposable (just as most books and music and movies are ultimately disposable), but the shows that understand the possibilities in literally hours of story time can become epics, not necessarily in style (I’m thinking of shows like Arrested Development in addition to such obvious examples as The Sopranos and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) but in scope.

Time will tell whether Caprica can ascend to that echelon—it’s still early, and it’s walking a staggeringly high tightrope—but it has the potential because it has the ambition, with an enormous cast of complex characters, intricate plotting, and truly intriguing ideas about technology and religion and terrorism and the nature of humanity and a host of other weighty themes. The tone is a bit uneven, wobbling from humor to melodrama to genuine tragedy, and then there’s the fact that as a prequel to the revamped Battlestar Galactica (which ended its four-season run last spring), it is, by definition, heading toward apocalypse: the vast majority of the characters (not to mention their entire civilization) are doomed, which is, you know, kind of depressing. And yet Caprica is too interesting and immersive to be a downer. I haven’t gotten over my fears that it’s going to collapse into an incoherent mess (always a danger when you aim high), and I don’t have much idea where it’s going with the many narrative threads, but my bewilderment isn’t a strike against it. That, in fact, is what make it so fascinating.